Impact of Modality on Skills Training for Youth with Externalizing Problems: A Meta-Analysis

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NICHCY’s Structured Abstract 50 describes the following:

Title | Impact of Modality on Skills Training for Youth with Externalizing Problems: A Meta-Analysis

Author | Ang, R.P., Woldbeck, T.F., & Hughes, J.N.

Source | Paper presented at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development (Albuquerque, NM, April 15-18, 1999)

Year Published | 1999

A meta-analysis (37 published studies) that summarized treatment outcomes associated with skills training with antisocial youth was performed. As is consistent with the hypothesis, results indicate that skills training interventions delivered in the context of homogeneous groups of deviant peers produced smaller benefits than did skills training interventions delivered in the context of mixed groups of prosocial and deviant peers, or individual treatment. Also, as expected, treatment provided in the context of deviant-only groups attenuated treatment benefits more for more severely disordered groups such as those who are incarcerated or placed in a class for behavioral or emotional problems, than for youth who might only be at-risk for such conditions.

One of defining characteristics of students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) is a deficit in problem–solving and social skills*. These students’ lack of interpersonal skills lead to problems forming and maintaining relationships with peers, and often start cycles of peer rejection, withdrawal, social isolation, and loneliness.

Over the years many programs have been designed to teach skills through direct instruction, modeling, role-playing, and practice. Those who support these programs believe that, if students can master basic skills such as greeting people, making conversation, or handling anger in the classroom, they will be able to generalize those skills to other situations they encounter in their daily lives. However, research on the effectiveness of skills interventions has been mixed. One possibility for the varied results of research on skills training is that the success of interventions varies depending on the subjects’ disabilities and on whether they received training with other students with the same disability or in a heterogeneous group of peers with and without disabilities. This meta-analysis explores these possibilities.

Research Questions
The purpose of this study was to summarize the effects of individualized, homogenous, and heterogeneous group-based interventions on skills training for antisocial youth.

Research Design
Meta-Analysis *

  • Number of Studies Included | 37
  • Number of Subjects | N/A
  • Years Spanned | 1970-1997

Research Subjects
The majority (85%) of the subjects were male. Participants were almost evenly divided in terms of ethnicity between Caucasian (47%) and African-American (52%).

Age/Grade of Subjects
Subjects were 6 to 18 years of age, with a mean age of 11.54, and were in the 1st through 12th grades.

Specified Disability
Emotional Disturbance. However, the study focused on externalizing behaviors, including childhood aggression, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, antisocial behavior, violent behavior, and adolescent delinquency.

The participants received skills training intervention individually or in a deviant-only group or a mixed group (deviant and prosocial). However, the types of intervention training participants received were not discussed.

Duration of Intervention
Students participated in between 1 and 5 (mean = 1.83) sessions each week. Each session ranged between 20 minutes and 3 hours (mean = 59.16 minutes). The length of interventions ranged from 3 weeks to 2 years with an average length of 13.26 weeks.

Skills training interventions delivered in homogenous groups of deviant peers produced smaller benefits than did skills training interventions delivered in the context of either individual treatment or mixed groups of prosocial and deviant peers.

Combined Effects Size
A moderate effect size (mean ES=.67) was found for at-risk students who participated in social skills interventions in groups of both at-risk and socially adjusted peers. However, a low effect size (mean ES = 0.34) was found for at-risk students who received training in deviant-only groups.

The success of a skills intervention depends in part on the characteristics of the group within which a student receives skills training. At-risk students who receive skills training either individually or in a mixed group of at-risk and prosocial peers benefit significantly more than at-risk students who receive skills training in groups where all the students are characterized as deviant. The benefit of heterogeneous groups over homogenous groups is not as pronounced for students who had severe emotional or behavioral disorders, however.

The most effective treatments appear to be interventions that are socially consequential and where participants are assessed in terms of important developmental outcomes using methods such as peer ratings of aggression, acceptance, or recidivism.


* Meta-Analysis | A widely-used research method in which (1) a systematic and reproducible search strategy is used to find as many studies as possible that address a given topic; (2) clear criterion are presented for inclusion/exclusion of individual studies into a larger analysis; and (3) results of included studies are statistically combined to determine an overall effect (effect size) of one variable on another.

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